The Best-Kept Secrets to Reducing Abdominal Separation during Pregnancy

100% of women suffer from some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy. Scary huh?

But while it’s largely unavoidable, we share with you the best-kept secrets to help reduce abdominal separation during pregnancy (or at least minimise the damage), and support a better, faster post-pregnancy recovery.

What causes abdominal separation during pregnancy?

Referred to those in the know as Diastasis Recti, abdominal separation during pregnancy is the widening of the fibrous material between the abdominal muscles.

Research suggests that it’s most likely due to increased intra-abdominal pressure and weak abdominal muscles. This pressure is unavoidable during pregnancy, so all we can do is minimise it by improving/maintaining our core strength, and adequately preparing for post birth rehab.

Do hundreds of crunches reduce pregnancy abdominal separation?

Most women don’t see it coming, but if you let your core go and don’t continue any strengthening exercise during pregnancy, the separation between your abdominal muscles can cause issues with everyday activities like picking up your baby, as well as resulting in a long-term doughy tummy.

And while you may think the secret to avoiding or repairing abdominal separation means hours of crunches, it’s in fact quite the opposite.

What are the secrets to minimise abdominal separation before and after pregnancy?

As qualified Exercise Physiologists (EP)’s we will safely guide you to maintain a strong core without compromising your post-pregnancy recovery.

A few smart and easy changes to help you minimise abdominal separation include:

  • Change your standing posture.
  • Alter daily tasks/movements that increase pressure.
  • Perform safe core strengthening exercises.

Let’s explore these in more detail:

Abdominal Separation Secret #1: Changing Your Posture

There’s a bunch of postural changes that automatically happen while this weight in your front grows and grows.

Here’s an important postural tip to specifically decrease your abdominal pressure (which can increase the amount of separation after birth).

See the left image? {Include image} This is what happens when we are pregnant. Stand up and see if this is you. Is your weight on your toes? We lean forward and let the weight shift forward, this pushes our hips forward.

Now stand up and try this: Think about the weight of your body going into your heels, rather than in your toes. This shifts your hips back over your knees, like the image on the right. Not only does this decrease the pressure in our abdominal wall but it automatically makes you contract your abs in a safe way. Win-win!

Now the challenge is to try and think about this adjustment while waiting for the elevator at work, or waiting for the lights to change to walk, cooking dinner, or cleaning your teeth.

Give it a go and see how it feels.

Abdominal Separation Secret #2: Alter movements that accelerate ab separation

Remember that we’ve been talking about abdominal separation and how 100% of women get some degree of separation? So, the best thing you can do is minimise it.

See Video

This video briefly shows ‘doming,’ which happens when contracting your abs once you already have abdominal separation.

Healthy Bumps Founder, Alison Taylor, is featured in this video. She is doming while sitting forward to get out of chair without using her arms (using her abs instead). Al says: “It’s pretty confronting that I’m already doming this much, but given it’s my second pregnancy (already stretched) and I have a 16kg toddler to lift every day, I’m really not surprised!”

So, the goal is to minimise separation to ensure your after birth recovery is not so bad. This is done by either contracting the inner core while doing the movement (which requires some skill), or avoiding/changing the movements that will accelerate your separation. (Two examples are shown in the video above).

Doming is a good way to check if a movement both in your daily routine and/or in the gym are good for you or not. Remember: Doming = bad.

Abdominal Separation Secret #3: Perform safe core strengthening

Focus not on your abs, but on your core (made up of all your abs: deep, side and surface ones, back muscles and your pelvic floor). If you can learn to get them all engaging together while you do your exercises (or daily activities like lifting your child), then you are winning and will significantly lessen your chance of any long-lasting separation.

HOT TIP: We’re talking to pre and post-natal ladies here! Prevention for pre-natal and repair for post.

It’s hard to teach people to engage the core in one go. It usually takes weeks of specialised guidance and practice. For those who aren’t getting physio or EP guidance, you can do the following exercises at home. These will force you to use a lot of your core, safely!

Note: These are for pregnant women, with modifications for those who are 6+ weeks post-natal.

HOT TIP 2: If you can engage your pelvic floor while you do these, then you’re a step ahead in the road to core strengthening.

Safe core strengthening exercises include:

See Demonstration Videos Here

Ball Pumps (30-60 seconds)
Perform on your knees with a ball or cushion at waist or hip height. The secret here is to keep your arms a little bent and then do all the movement from your hips, not your elbows.

Modified Dead Bug (5-10 each side)
Lay on your back, knees bent and arms up hugging an imaginary ball. Slowly extend one leg out straight, while the opposite arm drops back to the floor. Make sure your other arms stays hugging the ball. Then return to starting position and change to the other leg/arm.

Box Plank (5-10 holds)
In a box position, place your arms under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Lift and hold your knees 1-2 inches off the floor, while continuing to breathe. Hold knees up for 2-5 breaths.

Note: These might look super easy, and they are, but don’t underestimate what they’re doing on the inside. The most important thing is that you continue to breathe and that you engage your pelvic floor while performing these exercises.

Remember, these exercises are about strengthening or rebuilding — not getting six packs! Those come later…

Top Tips for Healthy Bumps

Now you know how to best avoid and manage pregnancy-related abdominal separation, find out all the latest nutrition, exercise and pregnancy info at healthybumps.com

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Al Taylor X
HB Founder, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Mum of Two